Beyond a snapshot: Getting to know photography teacher Debra Dilworth

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Beyond a snapshot: Getting to know photography teacher Debra Dilworth

New photography teacher Debra Dilworth.

New photography teacher Debra Dilworth.

photo by Alex Landy

New photography teacher Debra Dilworth.

photo by Alex Landy

photo by Alex Landy

New photography teacher Debra Dilworth.

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Look at the sidelines at any CESJDS event from Kab Shab to Color War and you will see photography teacher Debra Dilworth behind the long lens of a Canon DSLR camera, capturing the action. 

Dilworth came to JDS last October to replace photography teacher Jerry Eisner when he retired after teaching at JDS for 26 years. She has been practicing photography for 30 years and has an MFA degree in the subject. Dilworth taught at several colleges and online at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. 

“I used to teach [at] college, so the transition to the high school was hard, but it was very surprising because the students were a lot more creative and a lot more willing to try new things,” Dilworth said.

The transition was also challenging for Dilworth because she was interviewed at JDS only two weeks before she was hired for the job and was asked to teach the following week. She still has not found a permanent place to live and is currently staying in an Airbnb. But none of those challenges have affected her teaching, and her class is among the most popular at JDS.

“She has this level of dedication that is really impressive,” art teacher Ben Tellie said. “Just kind of seeing the output of her student work makes me really happy, it gets me kind of inspired… and I think the school is very lucky to have a person like her.” 

Tellie noticed that the longer Dilworth has been at JDS, the more comfortable she has become. Dilworth said that her colleagues are very helpful and give good advice. They were especially supportive when Dilworth’s mother passed away last year. Dilworth shared the experience with her students as well.

“…[My mother] loved photography, and she loved what I was doing, and I just kept remembering that memory of my mom,” Dilworth said. “You’ve got to sometimes open up and share the bad things.”

Freshman Rachel Rubin thinks that Dilworth has taught her a lot about the fundamentals of photography and helped her become a better photographer. “I thought she was a great teacher, friendly and welcoming,” Rubin said.

Dilworth starts each semester teaching the fundamentals of photography and then moves on to some of the more conceptual ideas. She tries to individualize her course for each student so they can enjoy it. Her favorite part of her job is looking at her students’ journals and work.

Dilworth is used to managing a large number of people. She has worked not only as a photographer, but also as a chef. Her father owns a restaurant and taught her to cook when she was very young. When she didn’t have a full-time job in photography, she had a job in cooking in a major restaurant. But working with students gives her great satisfaction.

“Seeing the students click like a light bulb switch going on … like ‘oh I understand it’… makes me appreciate photography a lot more,” Dilworth said. 

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